In the week and a half that hardline Islamic cleric Habib Rizieq has been back in Indonesia , he has called for the beheadings of those who insult the Prophet Mohammed, sought the release of a convicted terrorist leader and sanctioned prayers for President Joko Widodo’s death.
Perhaps most concerning, Rizieq, the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, has presided over meetings of tens of thousands of his followers, ignoring health protocols in a country where there has been more than 488,000 infections and over 15,600 deaths.
In the face of government inaction against Rizieq’s mass gatherings, the soap opera star Nikita Mirzani, who is known for ignoring another kind of protocol in Indonesia – dressing modestly – boldly criticised him, angering his supporters, who threatened to send 800 people to raid her home over the weekend.
“The police, military, government were stunned to see the massive turnout to welcome Rizieq and didn’t quite know what to do. But Nikita came out to criticise him,” said Najib Azca, a lecturer in the sociology department at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.
In a post on her Instagram account, which has since been deleted, Nikita described the massive crowds that greeted Rizieq at the airport upon his return home as “excessive”.
“The welcome was insane, traffic jams everywhere,” she said, adding that one of her friends missed her flight because of the crowds.
“They are both bold, loud, have many followers but don’t have integrity and other qualities that make them worthy to be exemplary figures,” said Najib.
In 2017, Nikita announced she was going to pose for Playboy magazine’s Philippines’ edition. She later cancelled her contract, telling the local press she did not want to spoil her relationship with her then boyfriend.
Rizieq has since been fined 50 million rupiah (US$3,500) by the Jakarta Public Order Agency for violating health protocols during the events.
On Friday, Jakarta military commander Major-General Dudung Abdurachman threatened to break-up Rizieq’s Islamic Defender Front (FPI) in a rare rebuke by the military, which was the most powerful institution under the 32-year rule of the late President Suharto until his ousting in 1998.
“I am warning you and I will not hesitate to act firmly. Don’t try to disrupt the unity and integrity
The charge centred around a WhatsApp chat between Rizieq and a female supporter that include naked images of the woman – a crime under Indonesia’s anti-pornography law.
For those unhappy with the government’s handling of the pandemic, economy and other issues, Rizieq was welcomed home as an opposition figure – as he was bold, of Arab descent and possessed the right “religious attributes”, Najib said.
“His followers see him as someone who could take on the government, never mind the fact that he does not possess depth of knowledge,” Najib said. “Rizieq’s knowledge of Islam cannot be compared to those
Muhammad Habib Abiyan Dzakwan, a researcher with the disaster management unit at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta , expressed concerns over potential new clusters owing to the crowds that gathered for Rizieq’s events, which included the wedding of his daughter last weekend.
“However, I am more directly concerned with the government’s failure to respond to the matter properly,” Habib said. “It feels like there’s a discrepancy in terms of health protocol enforcement.”
Habib said that although many cafes, restaurants, malls and other places where crowds normally congregate have been shut down for flouting Covid-19 rules, religious leaders and high-level political figures face little action when their supporters congregate for mass gatherings.
“Cherry-picking enforcement will not help Indonesia to bring down the number of infections in this pandemic,” Habib said, adding that the government had “no concrete plan” for testing or contact tracing of those who attended Rizieq’s events. Instead he said, the government relies “on reactive measures and not preventive measures”.
The national Covid-19 task force chief Doni Monardo said on Friday that at least 77 people who were part of the crowds at Rizieq’s recent events had tested positive for the coronavirus.
And there is more to come from Rizieq – he plans to travel to the provinces for a “safari dakwah”, an expedition of preaching and proselytisation.
“I am really feel nauseous hearing about this safari dakwah,” Habib said, pointing to how Rizieq’s organisation “cannot control the crowds” and “hesitancy from the government in acting promptly in preventing these crowds”.
Rizieq’s Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), has been implicated in multiple acts of harassment, intimidation, threats and mob violence against religious minorities. FPI has attacked and burnt the homes of a tiny Muslim sect named Ahmadiyah. Some FPI members have travelled to Syria to fight for Islamic State.
FPI, which campaigns for the implementation of sharia law in secular Indonesia, is also known for attacking night clubs and bars during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Last weekend, Rizieq made an emotional speech in Bogor, West Java, where he called on the police to act against those who insult the Prophet, Islam and Muslim clerics if incidents similar to the beheading of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty in Paris last month by a Chechen extremists were to be avoided. Paty had showed his students cartoons of the Prophet published in 2015 by Charlie Hebdo , a French satirical newspaper, during a civics lesson.
“If this is allowed to go on, the provocation will deepen and spread,” Jimly said on his official Twitter account.
Asked about the likelihood that any of Rizieq’s followers could respond to his call to behead anyone who insults the Prophet or Islam, Robi Sugara, a lecturer and counterterrorism analyst at Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic University in Jakarta said: “Whether or not it could take place depends on whether Rizieq’s followers come face to face with a person who insulted the Prophet on the road. It may or may not happen.
While the country of 270 million was once held up as a model of secular democracy, religious conservative talk dominates Indonesia social media space on wide-ranging issues including gender and the government, according to a study by researchers from Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University.
The study, which was reported on by The Jakarta Post , found that conservative narratives have dominated online conversations about religion, particularly on Twitter, where they accounted for 67 per cent of the total, compared with 22 per cent for moderate narratives.
Liberal narratives, meanwhile, accounted for 6.1 per cent of the total online conversations about religion, and Islamist perspectives 4.5 per cent, according to the study, which combed through Twitter data from 2009 to 2019 and included interviews with public figures and prominent social media users.
This article was first published in Asia One . All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.